Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District undertook a different kind of mission recently when they went to Mount Charleston, Nev. Mar. 11 and 12.
For the first time in more than a decade, the LA District received approval for “Advance Measures” technical and direct assistance for the State of Nevada. At the state’s request, under Public Law 84-99, the District sent a team of five to assess the danger to life and property to a community downhill from a fire-burned slope.
“Public Law 84-99, Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies, allows the Corps to provide technical and direct assistance in advance of a flood event when we can show an imminent threat of unusual flooding,” explained Anne Hutton, the District’s chief of Emergency Management. “While [USACE Headquarters] approves funding for these projects, it is our role at the District to work with local jurisdictions and states to ensure they understand our authorities and to provide assistance when they apply.”
The fire occurred in July 2013 and burned nearly 27,000 acres in the Springs Mountain National Recreation Area. A subsequent rainfall event during the 2013 monsoon prompted Nevada agencies to begin looking at ways to protect the members of the community. In February 2014, Christopher B. Smith, chief of the Nevada Department of Public Safety, sent a letter to Col. Kim Colloton, the LA District commander, requesting direct and technical assistance.
“During July to August 2013, monsoon rains resulted in severe and unusual flooding causing heavy debris flows, erosion and significant property damages in the Rainbow Subdivision as well as most of Clark County,” Smith wrote in his letter. “The existing debris fields, erosion and damages will further be exacerbated by current winter weather, snowpack runoff and future annual monsoonal events. These types of events will have catastrophic consequences to life safety and property and are expected to continue.”
In response to the letter from the state, the District received funding from USACE Headquarters to assist. The district mobilized a team to inspect the area in late March. Members of the team represented Hydrology and Hydraulics (H&H), Design, Geotech, Regulatory, and Environmental Support divisions.
“We were there to provide technical assistance to Rainbow Subdivision in Mount Charleston,” said Reuben Sasaki, a civil engineer with the District. “[Members of the team] were chosen to provide expertise necessary to provide technical assistance. They provided knowledge and experience in varying areas like hydrology, hydraulics… and environmental concerns such as endangered species, fish and wildlife resources, water quality, natural and cultural resources.”
While they were in Nevada, the team members met with Clark County Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service representatives to obtain background information and visited the site with them. At the site, District team members inspected the damages remaining from the Sept. 1, 2013 flash flood event and considered a technical proposal to reduce or prevent catastrophic damages in future events.
“I think the visit went well, particularly because we were able to identify an engineering solution,” Hutton said.
The District is preparing to begin design on a solution for the situation and will be working with Clark County officials, the U.S. Forest Service and the State of Nevada.